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Prepare now (or better yet yesterday) for Aug. 21 solar eclipse
Mid-afternoon sun shines off of the sun marker in Gainesville's downtown square.

Solar System Scale Model Tour

What: Frank Lock leads walking tour
When: 10:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. July 8
Where: Gainesville Downtown Square, Main Street, Gainesville
How much: Free

Learn about the Total Solar Eclipse 2017

What: Lunch and learn with Robert Webb, president of North Georgia Astronomers
Noon Aug. 3
Where: Hall County Library System, Gainesville Branch, 127 Main St. NW, Gainesville
How much: Free 

The first total, cross-country solar eclipse since 1925 will streak across Southern skies after 2 p.m. on Aug. 21, and the window to plan your day to see it is quickly closing.

Americans along the path of the eclipse will get 155 precious seconds of “totality,” the period when the sun is completely covered by the moon.

Hall County sits just beyond the edge of that path — a shoestring of astrological happenstance stretched across the country from south of Portland, Oregon, to McClellanville, South Carolina — and instead will see an eclipse of 95 percent in August.

That last 5 percent makes a big difference, according to local astronomer and 36-year physics teacher Frank Lock.

“In Gainesville, you can see the entire thing, but you do need to be wearing solar eclipse glasses when you do,” Lock said.

Under the full eclipse, daylight will dim to the same level as a half-hour after sunset, Lock said, and the event can be observed with the naked eye.

Keep your eyes protected in Gainesville, where daylight will noticeably dim but not enough to avoid scorched retinas. Wear glasses and use filters for your telescopes unless you want to help your ophthalmologist keep the lights on.

But only 40 miles north of Gainesville, Georgians will experience a total eclipse. Towns like Clayton, where Lock is headed to see the event, and its surrounding communities in Rabun County are braced for a huge influx of solar tourists.

Kay NeSmith, manager of the Rabun County Welcome Center, said hotels in the area began filling up in February and are now completely booked.

“For a lot of people, it’s once in a lifetime,” NeSmith said.

Some rooms are available in the area through AirBnB.

In Clayton, totality will begin at 2:35:46 p.m. If you’re traveling same-day for the eclipse, leave as early as possible to avoid traffic and find a place to park well before the event begins.

For those interested in taking some time off work and traveling farther, the path of the eclipse stretches the whole of South Carolina, and there are a large number of events and festivals focusing the event in communities along the eclipse path.

One of the largest festivals is in Columbia, South Carolina, and lasts the entire weekend preceding the Monday eclipse. Totality in Columbia begins at 2:41:50 p.m.

Whether you’re staying put or traveling for the eclipse, NASA has a few ways you can turn the day into a learning experience for your kiddos (or yourself), and do some honest-to-goodness scientific research in the process.

Unlike astrological events that happen at night, the eclipse can’t be affected by light pollution or most other man-made irritants. You can catch the eclipse from a mountaintop or from your front yard. Just make sure to keep an eye on the weather.

It’s a unique event, and powerful one for U.S. astronomers, amateur or professional.

“One of the things I enjoy most is to have someone even look at something as simple as the moon in the telescope, and inevitably they say, ‘Oh, wow,’” Lock said. “That ‘Oh, wow,’ is just terrific, because it means they learned something.”

In the mid-afternoon of Aug. 21, turn your eyes skyward and learn something.